Old Great Bulgaria

Old Great Bulgaria
Old Great Bulgaria




Monogram of Kubrat

Old Great Bulgaria
Capital Phanagoria
Language(s) Bulgar
Religion Tengrism
Government Absolute Monarchy
 - 632–665 Kubrat
 - 665–668 Batbayan
Historical era Middle Ages
 - Kubrat heirs the throne 632
 - Batbayan heirs the throne 665
 - Old Great Bulgaria is conquered by the Khazars 668
History of Bulgaria
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Bulgars' settlements VI-VII century

Old Great Bulgaria or Great Bulgaria (Byzantine Greek: Παλαιά Μεγάλη Βουλγαρία, Palaiá Megálē Boulgaría; Bulgarian: Стара Велика България, Stara Velika Bălgariya) was а term used by Byzantine historians to refer to Onoguria during the reign of the Bulgar ruler Kubrat in the 7th century north of the Caucasus mountains in the steppe between the Dniester and Lower Volga.[1]



Kubrat (also Kurt or Houvrat) was of the kingly Dulo clan[2] and the rightful heir of the Bulgar throne. He spent his adolescence in the Byzantine Empire, where he was educated and baptised,[3] while his maternal uncle Organa ruled over his tribe.

Around 628, Kubrat returned to his fatherland, took the leadership over his people most probably with the approval of the Avar khagan. He soon managed to overthrow Avar domination and to secede from the Western Turkic Khaganate (which was entangled in dynastic wars).


Between 630 and 635, Khan Kubrat managed to unite the two main Bulgar tribes of Kutrigur and Utigur under a single rule, creating a powerful confederation which is referred to by the medieval authors as The Old Great Bulgaria[4] and also known as Onogundur-Bulgar Empire (or in western version: Onoghuria).[5] Some scholars assume that it also included among its subjects the defeated Avars and stretched as far west as the Pannonian plain. It is presumed that his capital was the ancient city of Phanagoria on the Taman peninsula. Kubrat's grave was discovered in 1912 at Pereshchepina, Ukraine.[6]

Disintegration and successor states

The events that unfolded following Kubrat's death are described by the Byzantine Patriarch Nicephorus I.[4] In the times of Emperor Constantine IV, he narrates, Kubrat died and Batbayan, the eldest of his five sons, was left in charge of the state. Under strong Khazar pressure, Kubrat's other sons disregarded their father's advice to stay together in order to resist the enemies and soon departed, taking their own tribes.

Volga Bulgars

Kotrag, the leader of the Kutrigurs (or Kotrags), left for Middle Volga, where he later established Volga Bulgaria at the Volga–Kama confluence, a state which was to become very prosperous. The Volga Bulgars or the Silver Bulgars (Bessermens) as they were called at the time, converted voluntarily to Islam in the 9th century and managed to preserve their national identity well into the 13th century, by repelling the first Mongol attacks in 1223. However, they were eventually subdued, their capital Bulgar city became one of major cities of the Golden Horde of the Mongols and the Bulgars mixed with the Tatars. The citizens of the modern Russian republics of Tatarstan and Chuvashia are considered to be descendants of those Bulgars.

Bulgars in Vojvodina and Macedonia

Kuber ruled in Sirmium over a mixed group of peoples (Bulgars, 'Romans', Slavs, Germanics) as a vassal of the Avar khagan. After a revolt he led his people to Macedonia. There he had settled in the region of Keremisia and made an unsuccessful attempt to capture the city of Thessaloniki. After this, he disappears from history and his people merged with the Slavic tribes of Macedonia.

Bulgars in Southern Italy

Other Bulgars, circa 662, led by their "Duke Alzeco" (Altsek) sought refuge from the Avars with the Lombards and requested land from the Lombard King Grimoald I of Benevento in exchange for military service "for an uncertain reason", initially staying near Ravenna and later moving further south. Grimoald sent Altzek and his followers to his son Romuald in Benevento and they were then granted by Romuald land northeast of Naples in the "spacious but up till that time deserted" towns of Sepino, Bovianum (Boiano), and Isernia, in the present-day region of Molise in the Apennines. Instead of the title "Duke" Altzek was granted the Lombard title of "Gastald". Paul the Deacon in his Historia Langobardorum writing after the year 787 says that in his time Bulgars still inhabited the area, and that even though they speak "Latin", "they have not forsaken the use of their own tongue".[7]

Excavations in the necropolis of Vicenne-Campochiaro near Boiano which dates from the 7th century, found among 130 burials that there were 13 human burials alongside horses along with artifacts of Germanic and Avar origin.[8][9][10] Horse burials are characteristic of Central Asian horse-nomads, and therefore these burials are clearly those of the Bulgar settlers of Molise and Campania.[11]

Caucasian Bulgars / Balkars

BatBayan's people, the so-called Black Bulgars, remained in their homeland and were soon subdued by the Khazars. Some believe that the present-day Balkars are the descendants of the BatBayan horde even though they call themselves Malkars (after the river Malka) and speak a Turkic language of the Kipchak type. But in most Turkic languages the sound "b" became "m".

First Bulgarian Empire

After the state disintegrated under Khazar attack in 668, Asparuh parted ways with his brothers and led some of the Bulgars to seek a secure home. He was followed by 30,000 to 50,000 Bulgars.[12] After the Battle of Ongal Asparukh founded the First Bulgarian Empire, which was officially recognized as an independent state by the Byzantine Empire in 681.

Etymology of Onoghuria

Variations of the name include:

Onoghuria, Onoguri, Onoghuri, Onghur, Ongur, Onghuri, Onguri, Onghuria, Onguria, Onogundur, Unogundur, Unokundur, etc.

There are numerous speculations about the origin of the Onogur name:

  • In modern language of the Caucasian Avars Onoghuria could mean "Everlasting", from uno - ever and guro - lasting.
  • Some derive it from the Turkic words On (ten) and Ghur (arrow) which in combination may mean "Ten Arrows", i.e. "A federation of ten tribes".
  • Another explanation states that because in Turkic languages the sound "z" turns to "r" when you go westwards and therefore the ethnonym of the Oguz/Oghuz Turks would sound as Ogur/Oghur in the west. Then Onogur would mean "ten clans of Oguz/Oghuz (Turks)". In support to this view is fact that the Bulgars are listed among the ten sons of Togarmah (the mythic ancestor of the Turks) in the Khazar Correspondence.
  • Others relate Onoghur to Unok-vndur, a Bulgar people mentioned in the early Armenian sources.

See also


  1. ^ Theophanes,Op. cit., p. 356-357
  2. ^ Nominalia of the Bulgarian khans
  3. ^ John of Nikiû, Chronicle
  4. ^ a b Patriarch Nikephoros I of Constantinople, Historia syntomos, breviarium
  5. ^ Zimonyi Istvan: "History of the Turkic speaking peoples in Europe before the Ottomans". (Uppsala University: Institute of Linguistics and Philology)
  6. ^ Rasho Rashev, Die Protobulgaren im 5.-7. Jahrhundert, Orbel, Sofia, 2005 (in Bulgarian, German summary)
  7. ^ Diaconis, Paulus (787). Historia Langobardorum. Monte Cassino, Italy. Book V chapter 29. http://www.northvegr.org/lore/langobard/033.php. 
  8. ^ Genito, Bruno (2001). "Sepolture Con Cavallo Da Vicenne (Cb):" (PDF). I° Congresso Nazionale di Archeologia Medievale.. Archived from the original on June 2, 2006. http://web.archive.org/web/20060602175209/ Retrieved 2007-09-27. 
  9. ^ Belcastro, M. G.; Faccini F. (2001). "Anthropological and cultural features of a skeletal sample of horsemen from the medieval necropolis of Vicenne-Campochiaro (Molise, Italy)" (PDF). Collegium antropologicum (Coll. antropol.) ISSN 0350-6134 25 (2): 387–401. http://www.collantropol.hr/_doc/Coll.%20Antropol.%2025%20(2001)%202:%20387%E2%80%93401.pdf. Retrieved 2007-09-27. 
  10. ^ "Longobard necropolis of Campochiaro". Archived from the original on November 6, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20071106041902/http://www.italia.it/it/guide/5,en,SCH1/objectId,SIG56921Pit,curr,EUR,parentId,RGN21it,season,at1,selectedEntry,artculture/intern.html. Retrieved 2007-09-27. 
  11. ^ Conte Miltenova, N. - I Bulgari di Gallo Matese - Prefazione e postfazione di Giuseppe Mario Tufarulo Passaporto Editore, Roma, 1993. - C.N.R.
  12. ^ Васил Н. Златарски. История на Първото българско Царство. Епоха на хуно-българското надмощие с. 188.

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